Sunday, January 29, 2006

How to Cry in Church

By most measures, I am not very feminine. My husband has to drag me to Michael’s to look at decorations for the house, I cannot be prevailed upon to take pictures, let alone scrapbook them, and I will never be accused of being a slave to fashion, as the Car Talk guys so tactfully put it. But I have at least one tentative claim to femininity. I cry. Not delicately, like the doe-eyed women in movies who dribble out a few dainty, alluring tears. I sob convulsively. I cry like a…wounded buffalo?? It’s not the kind of crying that makes people want to offer me their great-grandmothers’ handmade lace handkerchiefs. It’s the kind of crying that makes people want to put something in my mouth so that I don’t swallow my tongue.

I have a long history of losing it at church. The first time I remember being pushed over the edge by sacrament meeting was when I was six or seven. My family was harried and late that morning, I was cross and uncomfortable in my Sunday dress, and I suspect some discouraging words may have been uttered all around before we barged in. At the opening strains of “There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today,” I burst into angry tears because my soul was illuminated by not a shred of sunshine, and even then I was sure that everyone else was serene and happy and that I was alone in my puddle of misery. I had to be hauled out by my poor mother, who I’m sure was already stretched to the breaking point from juggling four intense and sometimes wild kids.

The February 2005 Ensign had a fascinating article by Carl C. Bruderer entitled ”Losing Barbara, Finding the Lord,” describing the pain of losing his wife to breast cancer and his subsequent journey to reactivity. The article was moving on many levels, but the part that absolutely riveted me was his description of seeing all of the families with both parents and ending up sobbing in the men’s restroom. At the point I read the article, I was making fairly regular trips from sacrament meeting to the restroom myself, for my own reasons, and it was so comforting to read that someone out there had done the same thing.

Recent posts have led me to reflect on the etiquette of religious crisis. Let’s face it, there are lots of reasons to cry in church, and probably all of us will experience one or more of them at some point in our lives. So, in the spirit of self-mockery and self-instruction, I offer my personal guide to crying in church.

First, cry quietly. Convulsive sobbing only creates unfortunate social complications that will likely make you feel worse, either in the moment or later, as you reflect miserably on the spectacle you’ve made of yourself. Kind people stare, try not to stare, or dither uncomfortably. (This is not their fault. When other people cry in my presence, I dither just as uncomfortably.) Should they ask you what’s wrong? Hug you? Leave you alone? Offer you a Cheerio? If you find yourself unable to keep it down, slip out as quietly as you can. In deciding whether to leave or stay, weigh the disturbance of your sobbing against the disturbance of rushing out of the meeting, and go with the lesser. Escalating sobbing suggests it’s time to flee.

Get your sobbing thoroughly out of your system before you attempt a return. While you’re completely convulsive, restrooms are best. You can lock the stall door and keep flushing the toilet if you have to, which, while undeniably a horrible waste of water, guarantees you privacy. In any other room, you risk interruptions that lead to stammered apologies on both sides. It’s also important not to convince yourself you’ve regained your composure before you actually have—this can lead to repeated attempted and failed returns, which only draw more attention. So once you’re out, don’t rush back until your hiccupping has faded of its own accord and you really have calmed down, not just stopped crying.

In the intermediate stage, after you have ceased convulsing but before you are ready to return, playing the piano in an unoccupied classroom can be very soothing.

If you are stuck in the front pew, where you would call more attention to yourself by leaving than by staying, another set of tactics comes into play. The most important thing is to get your mind off of what is driving you to tears by any means available. Open your scriptures. Contemplate polytheism in the Old Testament. Read the more anguished psalms, unless they make you cry harder. Read the Wendell Berry or Mary Oliver you have brought for this express purpose (I owe this suggestion to Lynnette. It really works!). Recite whatever scriptures, poems, or verbs you’re currently committing to memory to yourself. Say the multiplication tables backward. Make a frog out of the sacrament-meeting program. Hold the small child of a desperate parent near you.

Another tactic that rarely works, but might fool the unsuspecting: assume a beatific, touched-by-the-Spirit look. Attempt a radiant smile through your tears.

If you know you may have to leave sacrament meeting, Sunday school, Relief Society, or priesthood, position yourself in the back of the cultural hall or right by the door to facilitate a rapid exit. Recognize that certain days (Mother's Day, Father's Day, and stake conference are some of mine) are invariably bad, and on those days, position yourself accordingly, or just sit in the foyer. Recognize too that certain periods of life are just bad, and during those times, no matter what happens, you will probably break down. And remember that bad days and bad times, however endless they may seem, do invariably come to an end.

What do you all do when you lose it in the pews?


Blogger Melyngoch said...

I have a suggestion that will solve ALL your problems! Knit!

Actually, this is courtesy of Katya, and I don't know how to knit yet, but I intend to learn. But I did spend SM last week sewing buttons back on my favorite coat, and was thus able to pay attention or zone out as I needed to, and a potentially-dangerous set of talks on dating passed by with nary a sniffle on my part. So I fully intend to learn how to knit leper bandages (didn't Amalthea do that at some point, although not in church, for fear that the young womens leadership would assume possession of her knitting as evidence that she'd been Fixed?) because that's a quiet, attention-sucking activity that also makes the world a better place in some small way. And we can all finally be feminine, or at least tropically so.

1/30/2006 07:59:00 AM  
Blogger Lynnette said...

Eeep. Crying in public. One of my absolute least favorite things. My earliest memory of doing so isn't actually a church one--I was in the second grade, and my class did some presentation sort of thing in which we sang songs for our parents. As we walked up on the stage, for some reason my 7-year-old mind decided to stand in a different place than the one I'd been told, leading to a fair amount of havoc as all the second-graders behind me also ended up in the wrong spot. Afterward my teacher very nicely asked what I'd been doing, and I promptly burst into tears. But I was horribly humiliated to be crying--as I recall, I told my teacher that I had allergies. (Looking back, I'm thinking that she might not have entirely believed me. ;)

In any case, I like the ideas. I usually try to sit close to the exit in church so that I can make a quick getaway if necessary, but as you say, sometimes you get trapped and have to come up with other strategies.

1/30/2006 08:08:00 AM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

With three kids in tow, I hardly get to listen to much of anything in RS or Sacrament Meeting. And SS is usually so mind numbingly bad, that there's no cause for tears! I have on occasion read scriptures to alter my focus and keep me from crying though.

1/30/2006 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger Seraphine said...

What do you do if you start crying during a visiting teaching appointment? There's no easy way to escape there...

1/30/2006 10:24:00 AM  
Blogger Starfoxy said...

The building we met in growing up had an exit at the front of the chapel as well as in the back. That was a great building, and they should make more chapels with front exits that don't set off fire alarms or exit the building.

One thing I need to do is have a set plan in place with my husband in case I need to leave a meeting due to emotional breakdown. He's the sort of guy where if he can't find me he'll ask people where I am instead of just going to the car to wait for me.

1/30/2006 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger maria said...

Whenever our stake president speaks in our ward, it is inevitable that at least one or two women leave the chapel in tears. Has only happened to me once...but it was awful for all of the reasons you described in your post. What makes matters worse for me is that I have nearly-transparent skin, and whenever I cry I get these HUGE red blotches all over my face and neck that don't go away for hours and hours.

As far as suggestions--I would say that if you know you are sensitive to a particular speaker or type of speaker, just walk out of the chapel when they start their talk. Everyone will just think you're going to the bathroom or to get a drink. Then you can listen to the talk in the mothers' room or relief society room via the microphone broadcast system. It's a lot easier to regain composure when you're by yourself, rather than in front of a chapel full of people who thought that same talk was "so special."

1/30/2006 03:10:00 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

I think of secondary gain and my tears dry right up.

I've had a lot of emotion over the years, but I just tell myself that people think it is kool to cry and it stops the tears and gets me back in control.

I'm not sure what it is about the meme "crying is a socially positive event" that helps me get control, but it works for me.


is gone. I was actually just visiting to see where it had gone (as in how the conversation was going) and it was gone (as in gone).

1/30/2006 06:40:00 PM  
Blogger annegb said...

I am not a cry-er. I very seldom let myself do that.

But my husband, now, he cries at the drop of a hat.

He embarrasses me no end because he gets up and tells me he loves me in church and cries.

I've begged him not to do that and he refuses. It's become a point of honor that he has the right to cry if he wants.

I hate it.

1/31/2006 08:06:00 AM  
Blogger Sweet Pickle said...

My wife either falls asleep, a gift that I wish I had, or does a Sudoku puzzle.

1/31/2006 08:25:00 AM  
Blogger JB said...

I hate crying in public with a passion. What's really fun about that is that I'm a complete cry baby about some things. I do a lot of what you suggested. Find other things to think about, escape when necessary, and play the piano in an empty room (assuming there is one, of course), color, draw, do something to get your mind off of what's bothering you, in another room if necessary.

When I was active in the church, I left a meeting or two because I knew the crying session wouldn't be contained well enough before church was over or because the next meetings would either make it worse or make it come back. Tough situation really. Not going to church completely eliminates the problem for me, but I wouldn't recommend that just because you're embarassed about crying in public. ;)

1/31/2006 01:13:00 PM  
Blogger annegb said...

I'm thinking of quitting church. Not quitting THE church, just becoming inactive. I think I might get some rest.

1/31/2006 10:54:00 PM  
Blogger Eve said...

Melyngoch, thanks for the suggestion, but I've been nervous about knitting ever since I read _A Doll's House_, in which Torvald tells Christine that knitting is awkward and unattractive.
(Tangent: is it considered kosher to knit, crochet, or embroider things in church meetings? I don't have strong opinions either way, but I'm curious what you all think.)

Lynnette--Ouch. Your story brought back similar childhood crying in public experiences I'd repressed. In elementary school I actually set goals at the beginning of each year: this will be the year I will not cry in class. I don't think I ever made it a whole year without losing it at least once.

Rebecca, good point. In some sense not having children gives me the luxury of crying. As for getting bored in bad lessons--that's definitely a problem as well, especially for those of us who hide our feelings poorly.

S, that sounds really unpleasant. For whatever reason I can't recall ever starting to cry while VTing or being V-taught. I think in such one-on-one social situations, however miserable I am before or after, I tend (without exactly planning to) to shift into "jolly" mode and talk a lot, fast, steering hard away from any topics I don't want to get into. Then I go home and want to throw up at myself, but that's probably a story for the VTing thread. Crying during VTing sounds awful. What did you do?

Starfoxy, good point about having a plan. I've sometimes left and told my husband I'll come back and pick him up later.

Maria--wow, what does your stake president say to push women to tears? I've walked out of a number of sacrament meetings and lessons because I was upset, but your comments reminded me of the only time I remember walking out of a sacrament meeting in protest, when a member of the stake presidency told our BYU ward that if women would be more obedient, their husbands wouldn't be tempted to abuse them. I also like the point you make about dealing with people who love the very talks that push you over the edge. Does that ever bring up complex social issues of honesty and politeness, when someone asks you, "Wasn't that the most marvelous talk you've ever heard?" In those situations I usually stammer out something evasive.

BTW, maria, that's got to be hard, being the bishop's wife. What a weird position to be in, especially if you're less than orthodox. I would hate that.

Stephen, great use of reverse psychology on oneself! I'll have to try that one.

Annegb raises a good point about the flip side of this issue, a post someone should do entitled When Tears Become Obligatory and a Mark of Deep Spirituality. I know some of my sisters here got labeled "hard" because they refused to sob during their testimonies at Girl's Camp, and my husband still talks about a mission companion who cried constantly and suggested my husband wasn't as spiritual because he didn't.

Sweet Pickle, I love Sudoku! Great idea.

Annegb, whatever you do, don't go inactive in the Bloggernacle. We need you.

2/01/2006 03:32:00 PM  
Blogger Eve said...

jessica benet, thanks for your thoughts as well. I wonder to what extent such fears are an obstacle to people who are inactive, leave the church, or would like to join. I had a friend (non-LDS) tell me once that every time she went to any church, she found herself sobbing. I think church can be very hard for people struggling with anxieties, social phobia, mental illness, or just a difficult period in their lives. I wonder what we could do to make it easier on each other.

2/01/2006 03:47:00 PM  
Blogger Seraphine said...

I just cried for a few minutes and apologized. It was in the middle of a conversation about gender stuff where I wasn't feeling heard, and I couldn't really bail without shutting down the conversation and offending my visiting teachers. It ended okay for the most part, but I felt pretty horrid at the end of the whole conversation just because it put me on edge emotionally.

2/06/2006 06:50:00 AM  
Blogger Eve said...

S, Yuck, That sounds nasty. One of the reasons I hate, hate, hate to cry in front of other people in the midst of hard conversations is that I don't want my opinions and experiences to be dismissed as mere pathology, and I've always been terrified that, for example, if I disagreed with my VTers about gender and then cried, they would pat me on the hand, call me a poor dear, and speculate about how my nasty childhood had failed to create me in their image. I'm sure many, maybe most, wouldn't do that. But it's my fear.

2/07/2006 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger Seraphine said...

Yeah, I worry about the same thing. My VTs had the impulse to pathologize my views, until I explained to them that I come from a very non-dysfunctional family where gender roles aren't enforced in problematic ways. At that point, they decided to pull the "once you're married, you'll understand how the Priesthood works" attitude, which is probably what bothers me the most.

Granted, I'll accept that there are ways my experiences are limited because I've yet to be married. But my attitudes about gender and the church do not stem from any problematic childhood experiences with the Priesthood, and I don't see how getting married to someone who properly magnifies his Priesthood is going to solve the issues I have.

Anyway, sorry for the slight tangent.

2/07/2006 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger Eve said...

S, No problem about the tangent. I think the issue you're bringing up of having one's unorthodox views pathologized is very relevant.

2/07/2006 09:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't Church about learning God's word and how to live in his spirit. This moves me to tears often...for sometimes unexplainable reasons. I think that people cry in church because they have realized some truth. If we do not dig deeper and learn how to live this truth we will learn nothing. We cry for a reason and there is nothing wrong with it, esp in church. I wish people felt differently. I don't need to be comforted when i cry in church. It is a moment between me and god, an understanding if you will. I dont need people to feel sorry for me and i dont feel sorry for anyone else who cries. They are getting rid of old baggage that was holding them down. Crying, despite it's crazy taboo, is a very healthy and normal expression.

4/10/2009 06:27:00 PM  
Blogger patti said...

I too have cried in church. I once asked someone what she thought it meant and she said, "Perhaps the person has had stressors...then too, there are some people who really do have God in their hearts."
I was once in a theatre that was packed with people. We were watching Gibson's film about Jesus and the crucifiction. Once, during this movie, I said aloud "Jesus." I was the only one in a packed movie house who had made a sound.
When I go to church, I think of how He suffered for us. I wonder sometimes if I am worthy of His suffering. I try, however. I am kind whenever given the opportunity; this kindness may be in the form of a gift or in words of encouragement or comfort to someone. Patti

9/30/2009 06:17:00 AM  

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